Haute Tension director Alexandre Aja injects lots of tension into his claustrophobic, nerve-shredding thriller Oxygen.
A woman wakes in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there. As she’s running out of oxygen, she must rebuild her memory to find a way out of her nightmare.
Oxygen clearly owes a huge debt to Rodrigo Cortes’s 2010 film Buried. It proved that you could deliver an nerve-shredding thriller set entirely in one location as Ryan Renolyds woke up in a coffin and struggled to find a way out. The film does cheat the system slightly by having Laurent’s character suffering from amnesia which allows them to escape the pod for brief moments as her memories slowly begin to return to her through flashbacks.
However like Buried, Aja knows that the success of the film lives or dies on the performance of the lead actor. The audience has to be with them from the moment they wake up, all the way through to the end. Melanie Laurent is simultaneously engaging, sympathetic, fierce and resourceful. Due to the impaired memory loss, she starts the film in the same place as the audience. She does not know how she got there or why. This allows the audience to go on the entire journey with her. Literally, because we are trapped in the pod with her.
Laurent is helped, or is it hindered, by the pod’s Medical Interface Liason Operator, or M.I.L.O. for short. The pod’s HAL or GERTY-esque A.I. is eager to please and help but at the same time, confined to the restrictions put in place by his programming. Voiced by Matthieu Amalric, his deadpan delivery provides unexpected humour when telling her that damage to the pod will result in ten years prison or repeatedly offering her a sedative when her stress levels get too high.
The science fiction genre setting means that her potential coffin is much more high tech than a wooden box. With the ticking clock element of the rapidly reducing oxygen levels, in addition to the “whodunnit” of who put her in the box and why, Laurent must use her ingenuity to escape her cryogenic tomb. Fans of the problem solving featured in films like Apollo 13 and The Martian will enjoy this aspect immensely.
This allows Oxygen to emerge from the shadow of Buried and evolve into its own thing entirely. Complete with some neat twists that keep Laurent and the audience guessing.
As the tension build to excruciating levels at the climax, Oxygen will have viewers so caught up in the action they will need to check they are still breathing.
Oxygen is available to watch on Netflix now.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Stars: Melanie Laurent, Matthieu Amalric
Runtime: 101 minutes